(Reuters) — An Oregon jury on Monday found PacifiCorp, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., liable in a $1.6 billion class-action lawsuit over four of the wildfires that devastated the state in 2020.
Jurors in Portland, where PacifiCorp is based, awarded more than $73 million in compensatory damages to 17 plaintiffs, following a seven-week trial in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
The jurors also applied their liability finding to thousands of other plaintiffs who said the fires damaged about 2,400 properties.
Damages for these plaintiffs will be determined in subsequent court proceedings. Damages for all plaintiffs have not yet been determined.
PacifiCorp said it “plans to pursue appeals, and we are confident we will prevail,”; adding that “regardless of the outcome, a lawsuit will never fully restore what was lost.”
The fire victims accused PacifiCorp of gross negligence and creating a nuisance for failing to shut down power lines during a Labor Day windstorm.
Victims said PacifiCorp did nothing despite knowing its equipment was damaged and despite forecasts of strong winds with gusts that could reach hurricane force. Witnesses reported seeing power lines start fires or send sparks.
The case was brought by survivors of the Santiam Canyon fire, which was formed from the merger of several fires, east of the Oregon capital of Salem; the Echo Mountain fire in Lincoln County; The South Obenchain Fire in Jackson County and the 242 Fire in Klamath County.
PacifiCorp had defended its fire prevention efforts, saying power outages would have been a last resort and not necessarily based on what it knew. It also said the plaintiffs could not establish that its equipment was at fault.
Wildfires throughout Oregon in 2020 burned approximately 1,900 square miles, destroyed an estimated 5,000 or more structures, and killed at least nine people.
The trial began on April 25.
PacifiCorp is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which is 92% owned by Berkshire Hathaway.